by Matt Walsh
CANBERRA, Jan. 11 (Xinhua) -- The Australian government has vowed to crack down on the abuse of politicians' entitlements, following revelations that ministers were charging taxpayers to travel for seemingly private purposes.
On Monday, Health Minister Sussan Ley agreed to stand aside while the government investigated claims she used taxpayer money to travel to the Gold Coast and purchase a private property, while, on Wednesday, investigations have revealed other ministers have also billed the public for attending public events.
Ley has come under further fire for refusing to rationalize why she spent more than 9,500 U.S dollars to pilot a private plane between major cities instead of taking a cheaper commercial option, while Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Transport Minister Darren Chester and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann have also been asked to explain unusual claims.
The heath minister, who is a licensed pilot, spent 5,150 dollars on chartering a propeller plane from Canberra to Adelaide - a flight which would have cost just 140 dollars had she flown economy class commercially, or 600 dollars for a business class ticket.
A spokesperson for Ley told Fairfax Media on Wednesday that the Health Minister would not be commenting on accusations while the government investigates.
"Ms Ley, who has stepped aside from her ministerial position, is cooperating fully with these reviews and will await their outcomes. At this stage, it would be premature and inappropriate to be commenting before the release of the findings of these thorough reviews," the statement said.
Also under fire is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop who billed the public 2,000 dollars to attend a polo match as a guest of beer brand Peroni and car manufacturer Jeep, while Mathias Cormann and Trade Minister Steve Ciobo had taxpayers foot the bill for their travel expenses to Melbourne to attend the AFL Grand Final in 2013. Both men were guests of bank NAB, and received complimentary tickets and hospitality.
According to the government's Ministerial Standards, MPs and Senators are allowed to claim for travel, but it must be reasonable and to get to-and-from official business.
"Ministers must be scrupulous in ensuring the legitimacy and accuracy of any claim for entitlement to ministerial, parliamentary or travel allowance," the standards read.
"Although their public lives encroach upon their private lives, it is critical that ministers do not use public office for private purposes."
Opposition MPs were not immune to probing, either; shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen was found to have spent more than 7,000 dollars on a family trip to Darwin while he met with government interests during the school holiday period.
The news comes a year after the federal speaker, Bronwyn Bishop stood down after it was revealed she billed Australian taxpayers more than 3,500 dollars to charter a helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong to attend a Liberal Party fundraiser - a trip which would have taken one hour in a car.
At the time, the government vowed to crack down on parliamentary benefits, ordering a review of the expenses system, but Guardian Australia revealed just three of the 36 recommendations from the review were ever implemented.
Government spokesperson Kelly O'Dwyer on Tuesday said the government would take action to end any unscrupulous spending by MPs and Senators.
"The Australian people expect that parliamentarians adhere to very high standards when it comes to claiming of work expenses," O'Dwyer said.
"The government does respect the Australian people, which is why we are the government that is actually taking action in relation to changing and cleaning up this system. There are many governments before that have ducked this issue. The Turnbull Government is dealing with it.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said the government was all talk, demanding change from the Prime Minister.
"Kelly O'Dwyer may well have said all the right things, But so did Mathias Cormann way back in March 2016 and virtually nothing's changed," he said late Tuesday.